by Mel Valentin
Two words: space vampires. If someone, say a friend with a dubious taste for sci-fi/horror cheesefests uttered said those two words, depending on your own interest in cheesefests, youíd either grin and nod your head or ask him what was wrong with him. For the sake of argument, letís say you like sci-fi cheesefests and itís been a while since you watched Mario Bavaís "Planet of the Vampires" or Tobe Hooperís "Lifeforce." Imagine you come across a sci-fi/horror flick from Japan late one night on cable with the promising title (at least in English) of "Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell" ("Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro" in Japanese). Much to your surprise, youíd find that itís a straight up alien invasion flick, making the English title something of a misnomer. Think of "Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell" as a combination of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and, letís see now, right, "Flight of the Phoenix" (i.e., a downed airplane stranded in an isolated area).Made and released in 1968, Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell was directed by Hajime Sato and written by Kyuzo Kobayashi and Susumu Takahisa. In other words, no one youíve ever heard of, but that makes complete sense when you look at Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (or not, if thatís your preference). Sato and his writers wanted to fold in commentary about contemporary problems, e.g., the Vietnam War, American imperialism, corrupt politicians, corrupt defense contractors, disaffected youth, and an outer space menace that should, but doesnít bring the survivors of an airplane crash together.
"Space vampires + an anti-war message: say what?"
Sato and his writers set up a neat cross-section of contemporary Japanese society, including a venal, bribe-taking senator, Mano (Eizo Kitamura), the defense contractorís wife, Noriko Tokiyasu (YŻko Kusunoki), Mrs. Neal (Kathy Horan), an American woman traveling through Japan on her way to retrieve her husbandís remains from a U.S. base on a Japanese island, a psychiatrist, Dr. Momotake (Kazuo Kato), a scientist, Sagai (Masaya Takahashi), the pilot (Hiroyuki Nishimoto), his co-pilot, Sugisaka (Teruo Yoshida), the flight attendant, Kuzumi (Tomomi Sato), a mystery man (Hideo Ko) who may or may not be an assassin wanted for the murder of a British ambassador (Andrew Hughes), and a possible suicide bomber.
Thatís a lot of political and social freight for Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell to carry on its thin alien invasion premise, but it tries, if far less successfully than Sato and his writers intended. Thanks to a blood-red sky and a glowing object, the jet plane carrying the aforementioned crew and passengers goes down in a remote area of Japan, location unknown. With the exception of the pilot, the crew and passengers survive, but without food or water, theyíre not likely to last long. After much handwringing and finger pointing, one character ends up dead, another wanders off to meet the glowing red orb, gets infected with an alien parasite, and before long, begins feeding on the passengers dumb enough to wander into his path.
A cheesefest it may be, but Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell also tries be a thinking man's cheesefest (if that makes any sense). Sato and his writers obviously wanted to include an anti-war message, primarily through the American character, that unsurprisingly isnít as sweet or demure as she looks. In fact, when push comes to shove (over a sandy cliff), the American proves to be just as ruthless as the other characters coded as self-interested and corrupt. To emphasize his anti-war views, Sato repeats a montage of red-stained photos, presumably authentic, from the Vietnam War, twice. Sato also gets the alien invaders to helpfully volunteer their usual world-conquering aims, but has the aliens point to our warmongering tendencies, lack of unity, and consequently, overall weakness to an alien invasion, as the perfect opportunity they just couldnít pass up.
As Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell shifts in survival horror mode, winnowing the survivors until we get the usual standoff between the resilient humans and the alien menace, Sato shifts into apocalyptic mode as a way to answer why the survivors werenít rescued and why the alien invasion seems, at least superficially, to be unnecessarily interested in a handful of survivors when a larger, much, much larger invasion fleet is necessary to conquer the earth. Sato goes for that ďif we donít smarten up now, this is what will or can happen moment,Ē with all the requisite pathos that implies, but that doesnít quite get there, mostly because he didnít have the resources, financial or creative, to pull it off.Still, as far as little known sci-fi/horror cheesefests made in the late 1960s by a Japanese studio go, "Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell" isnít half-bad. Itís not half-good either, but at least it doesnít linger too long on any one of several (or rather many) ridiculous plot turns. Whatever his intentions, Sato knew he had to keep the pacing brisk, the shocks at five- or ten-minute intervals, and having done that, could then go on for the big finish and layering in his simplistic, if no less earnest, anti-war message. Should you go out and give "Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell" a chance on late-night cable? If youíre in the mood for a slice of sci-fi/horror cheese and youíre feeling particularly charitable one evening, why not?
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originally posted: 11/12/07 23:02:28